Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
So what do you think of Iowa now?
No, really, I mean that literally. Because your intrepid blogger doesn't know what to make of this team. They looked thoroughly blah for perhaps 35 of 40 minutes last night. And beat Kentucky, 67-63, in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City. (Box score.)

First, the good news: Mike Henderson proved surprisingly effective at getting to the free throw line--shooting nine and making seven, which put him on track for 15 points overall. (He also made a three--and never mind the box score that says he didn't. He was between the experimental and regulation lines when he released the ball.)

Erek Hansen was his traditional November self: sitting with foul trouble, coming back in the game, blocking shots (five) and just generally wreaking havoc on the defensive end, loping doggedly down the court, and just generally wreaking a different kind of havoc on the offensive end. (Again, ignore the box score: Hansen's credited with only two turnovers. But when your teammate passes you the ball and you make no attempt to catch it, that, my friends, is your turnover.)

And Greg Brunner (17 and 12) was, as ever, Greg Brunner. I herewith repeat my position statement on the issue of Brunner's optimal weight. He sank one three, yes, but in-the-paint garbage is the raw material that Brunner processes most effectively into points and boards. So let him eat.

But was the ugliness of the game attributable to outstanding D by the Hawkeyes? We suspected going into the game, after all, that the Wildcats would struggle on offense--vigilant keen-eyed bloggers told us so most persuasively (here and here). There's no telling where this Kentucky team, with or without Randolph Morris, might end up (Final Four-bound Louisville looked similarly inept on offense a year ago in losing to Iowa in Maui) but right now they have no answers on offense (though Rekalin Sims showed flashes).

The play that disturbed me the most was the Jeff Horner turnover with two-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Bringing the ball upcourt in a situation where the Hawkeyes wanted to kill some clock, Horner dribbled without plan or purpose into the teeth of the Wildcat D and promptly had the ball stripped. It was disturbing on a couple levels. One, Horner's a senior. And two, it didn't entirely surprise me--for a stolid Iowa school boy hoops legend, Horner has always seemed to have this jarringly counterintuitive potential for careening completely out of control. Still, Horner helped his team, even on a frigid shooting night (1-of-10), with eight assists. (As it stands now, Steve Alford has a shooting guard who makes assists happen--and a point guard who does not.)

Tonight the Hawkeyes will take on Texas in the Guardians Classic championship game (10 Eastern on ESPN2), courtesy of West Virginia's inability to hit free throws. The Longhorns, like the Wildcats, have tremendous potential but looked eminently beatable in the KC Municipal Auditorium last night. Everyone's eminently beatable. It's November.

BONUS post-facto awards-show lobbying! Wildcat guard Rajon Rondo is 6-1. And he pulled down 19 rebounds last night. (That's a rebound pct. of 27.4 for the evening, by the way.) And he doesn't get Line o' the Night from Ken Pomeroy? O the humanity! Ken! Show my man Rondo the love!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Minnesota wing Vincent Grier will miss four to six weeks with a broken bone in his left (shooting) ring finger. BONUS Wonk instanalysis! The Gophers will lose some nonconference games they otherwise might have won--and it will be too bad if those three or four games spell the difference in March between getting an NCAA bid and going to the NIT. So Dan Monson's team will have little margin for error in conference play. Because it's a finger and not a knee or ankle, Grier can come back for the Big Ten season close to 100 percent in his conditioning and defense. Shooting may take longer to regain but, to be candid, that wasn't Grier's long suit to begin with. In any event, prepare yourself for some very ugly basketball in the near term. The Minnesota offense wasn't exactly poetry in motion with Grier. Without him...well, Mr. Munch would know what to expect.

Wisconsin scored 52 points after halftime and beat Old Dominion 84-81 in the championship game of the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands last night. Kammron Taylor definitely had his Wheaties before the game, registering game-highs for minutes (39), points (27), and rebounds (eight). Freshman Marcus Landry sank four free throws in the game's final seconds to seal the victory. Alando Tucker (20 points) was named the tournament's MVP. How convenient! Each team shot exactly as well as the other (51.7 effective FG pct.) and turnovers were likewise similar. The difference in the game was slightly better rebounding by and more trips to the line for the Badgers. "I've learned that [this is] a tough group mentally and physically," Bo Ryan said after the game. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Chaminade 89-67 yesterday in first-round action at the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii. Maurice Ager led the Spartans with 23 points fueled by 4-of-5 shooting on his threes. Paul Davis needed only 23 foul-blighted minutes to record a double-double (16 and 13). And redshirt freshman Marquise Gray helped ignite the slow-starting Spartans with a couple of notably emphatic dunks. As for the Silverswords, they bet on the three--and lost, going just 4-of-21. BONUS glance toward the future! Freshman point guard Travis Walton played 24 minutes and recorded five assists. (Box score.) Just two days removed from leg cramps and a 22-point loss to Hawaii, MSU's players were mocked by Chaminade fans who chanted "Water, water" during each Spartan trip to the line. (One sign-crafting fan landed on ESPN2 with: "Every Spartan Player Needs 2-Hydrate.") State advances to play Gonzaga in the semifinals tonight at 7 Eastern on ESPN.

Indiana beat Florida A&M 100-63 in Bloomington last night. The Rattlers played zone and the Hoosiers shot over it, launching 29 threes and hitting 16 of them. Marshall Strickland continued his "2005? What 2005?" home stand, draining 5-of-7 threes and scoring 20 points. Equally if not more impressive, Strickland recorded seven assists and just three turnovers. Roderick Wilmont came off the bench and added 17 points and eight boards in just 22 minutes. Earl Calloway injured his hip in Friday's game against Nicholls State and was held out of the game as a precautionary measure. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat Florida Atlantic 69-59 in Evanston last night. This was an ugly game: the Wildcats turned the ball over with Michigan-in-2005 frequency (18) and bricked 12 of 15 threes. Fortunately for Bill Carmody and his team, FAU also bricked 12 of their 15 threes. Matt Doherty's team fell behind by 18 early in the second half before making things interesting by switching to a zone. Still, NU managed to hold on--albeit only after seeing their lead shrink to four points--thanks in part to a well-timed dunk and three-point play from Vedran Vukusic, he of the game-high 27 points. "We were lucky to escape with a win," Vukusic said afterward. (Box score.)

Illinois hosts Texas Southern tonight in Champaign. The Illini are playing their second game in 48 hours but so are the visitors, who lost to Wichita State 86-54 on Sunday. (Profile of Brian Randle here.)

Ohio State hosts Butler tonight in Columbus. Buckeye coach Thad Matta both played (1988-90) and coached (2000-01) at Butler.

Michigan hits the road and plays at Boston University tonight. Maybe it's good that it's an away game--the Wolverines have lost to BU at home each of the last two years.

Purdue hosts South Alabama in West Lafayette tonight and freshman Nate Minnoy is impressing the Boilermaker fans with his play....Former coach Gene Keady has been approached by the Toronto Raptors about joining the team as an assistant or consultant.

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To Suhr with love
Yesterday I wondered aloud why 5-8 walk-on Errek Suhr is getting so many minutes at guard on a suddenly deep Indiana team--and why reputed Aussie stud Ben Allen is getting so few. Wonk's readers respond!

Hi, Wonk,

I've been enjoying your blog since someone pointed me to it at the very end of last season.

You asked for a "why" about the PT balance for Calloway, Suhr, and Allen. I have been at Assembly Hall for both preseason games and the Friday night Nichols State game and have been a long-time Hoosier watcher.

Here's my take. Suhr is a better shooter than Calloway (at least from what I've seen so far). When a player gets hot as Suhr did early, Davis is inclined to leave him in the game to see what he can produce. Also, Suhr has been with the team for a couple of years (and played with Davis's son and Sean May at Bloomington North HS) so he has longer knowledge of Davis's offense than anyone else on the team. I think when A.J. Ratliff gets healthy again, you will see him have most of the minutes that Suhr enjoyed Friday.

Now for Mr. Allen. He still looks a little lost out there, and he is a foul machine. Throughout the years I have watched the Davis-coached Hoosiers, Davis has been reluctant to give PT to big men who don't know the offense and foul a lot. George Leach suffered that fate his first couple of years for Davis, and Pat Ewing had the same problem. Personally, I wish he would have played Allen more in the Friday game, especially when we were ahead, to give him more of a chance to learn on the job--so (when we need to rest one of our two bigs) he won't have to play Vaden at the 4 like he did last year.

Happy writing and watching!

David U.
Bloomington, IN (IU MFA 1984)

Thanks, David! You have like-minded company....


Clearly the reason Suhr played so much is that Davis tried to get his best rebounding team on the floor. (VBG) Did you notice that Suhr pulled in eight rebounds (four off., four def.) in those 24 minutes? You've been clamoring for IU to hit the boards; who knew that Suhr would be the answer? Also, he was 3-of-3 from three-land.

All kidding aside, IU looked like a much different team on offense. They were running the ball up the court, reversing the ball from side to side in their half-court sets, and feeding Killer the ball nearly every time down the court. I was impressed with the solid play of Monroe: 10 points, five rebs, seven assists. He looks to be the solid floor general IU has been lacking for several years. Too bad he only has this season.

Luke H.

Thanks, Luke! Time for one more contribution....


In addition to your question, I think Strickland will continue to play strong, especially now that he has escaped the point and the weight of Bracey Wright's massive ego (and not-so-massive play). He had two strong games in the preseason and looked more confident than I ever remember.

Talking with my brother during the game Friday, I mentioned your point about slow, boring Indiana games and how that has changed. The next IU possession, Calloway received the inbound from a made Colonel basket, beat three guys down the court and dished to Strickland for a layup....They might not win all the games, but at least they will be more entertaining.

In regards to rebounding, I am curious to see tonight's game as I believe the rebounding margin was a fluke. The Colonels were quite small and young--and a lot of balls went directly to IU players. The technique didn't seem much improved but, if they keep rebounding, so be it.

Always enjoy reading the blog. Keep up the good work,

Nate D.

Thanks, Nate!

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